Images de page


Government of the South Sea Islands monarchical and arbitrary-Intimately connected with idolatry-Different ranks in society-Slavery-The proprietors of land -The regal family-Sovereignty hereditary-Abdication of the father in favour of the son-Distinctions of royalty-Modes of travelling-Sacredness of the king's person-Homage of the people-Singular ceremonies attending the inauguration of the king-Language of the Tahitian court-The royal residences-Dress, &c.Sources of revenue-Tenure of land-Division of the country-National councils-Forfeiture of possessions.

THE government of the South Sea Islands, like that in Hawaii, was an arbitrary monarchy. The supreme authority was vested in the king, and was hereditary in his family. It differed materially from the systems existing among the Marquesians in the east, and the New Zealanders in the southwest. There is no supreme ruler in either of these groups of islands, but the different tribes or clans are governed by their respective chieftains, each of whom is, in general, independent of any other. Regarding the inhabitants of Tahiti, and the adjacent islands, as an uncivilized people, ignorant of letters and the arts, their modes of governing were necessarily rude and irregular. In many respects, however, their institutions indicate great attention to the principles of government, an acquaintance with the means of controlling the

conduct of man, and an advancement in the organization of their civil polity, which, under corresponding circumstances, is but rarely attained, and could scarcely have been expected.

Their government, in all its multiplied ramifications, in its abstract theory, and in its practical details, was closely interwoven with their false system of religion. The god and the king were generally supposed to share the authority over mankind. The latter sometimes personated the former, and received the homage and the requests presented by the votaries of the imaginary divinity, and at other times officiated as the head of his people, in rendering their acknowledgments to the gods. The office of high-priest was frequently sustained by the king-who thus united in his person the highest civil and sacerdotal station in the land. The genealogy of the reigning family was usually traced back to the first ages of their traditionary history; and the kings, in some of the islands, were supposed to have descended from the gods. Their persons were always sacred, and their families constituted the highest rank recognized among the people.

The different grades in society were not so distinctly marked in Polynesia, as among the inhabitants of India, where the institution of caste exists; nor were they so strongly defined in Tahiti as among the Sandwich Islanders, whose government was perhaps more despotic than that which prevailed in the southern islands. The lines of separation were, nevertheless, sufficiently distinct; the higher orders being remarkably tenacious of their dignity, and jealous of its deterioration by contact with inferiors.

Society among them was divided into three dis

tinct ranks the hui arii, the royal family and nobility-the bue raatira, the landed proprietors, or gentry and farmers—and the manahune, or common people. These three ranks were subdivided into a number of distinct classes; the lowest class included the titi and the teuteu, the slaves and servants; the former were those who had lost their liberty in battle, or who, in consequence of the defeat of the chieftains to whom they were attached, had become the property of the conquerors. This kind of slavery appears to have existed among them from time immemorial. Individuals captured in actual combat, or who fled to the chief for protection when disarmed or disabled in the field, were considered the slaves of the captor or chief by whom they were protected. The women, children, and others, who remained in the districts of the vanquished, were also regarded as belonging to them; and the lands they occupied, together with their fields and plantations, were distributed among the victors.

We do not know that they ever carried on a traffic in slaves, or sold those whom they had conquered, though a chief might give a captive for a servant to a friend. This is the only kind of slavery that has ever obtained among them, and it corresponds with that which has prevailed in most of the nations of the earth in their rude state, or during the earlier periods of their history. This state of slavery among them was in general mild, compared with the affecting cruelty by which it has been distinguished in modern times, among those who support the inhuman system of trafficking in these unhappy beings. If peace continued, the captive frequently regained his liberty after a limited servitude, and was permitted to return to

his own land, or remain in voluntary service with his master.

So long, however, as they continued slaves or captives, their lives were in jeopardy. Sometimes they were suddenly murdered, to satiate the latent revenge of their conquerors; at others reserved as human victims, to be offered in sacrifice to their gods. Slavery, in every form, is perfectly consistent with paganism, and it was maintained among the islands as one means of contributing to its support. This kind obtains in most of the clusters, but is probably far more oppressive in New Zealand than in the Society Islands. The slaves among the former are treated with the greatest cruelty, and often inhumanly murdered and eaten.

The manahune also included the teuteu, or servants of the chiefs; all who were destitute of any land, and ignorant of the rude arts of carpentering, building, &c. which were respected among them, and such as were reduced to a state of dependence upon those in higher stations. Although the manahune have always included a large number of the inhabitants, they have not in modern times been so numerous as some other ranks. Since the population has been so greatly diminished, the means of subsistence so abundant, and such vast portions of the country uncultivated, an industrious individual has seldom experienced much difficulty in securing at least the occupancy of a piece of land. The fishermen and artisans (sometimes ranking with this class, but more frequently with that immediately above it,) may be said to have constituted the connecting link between the two.

The bue raatira, gentry and farmers, has ever been the most numerous and influential class, constituting at all times the great body of the people, and

the strength of the nation. They were generally the proprietors and cultivators of the soil, and held their land, not from the gift of the king, but from their ancestors. The petty raatiras frequently possessed from 20 to 100 acres, and generally had more than their necessities required. They resided on their own lands, and enclosed so much as was necessary for their support. They were the most industrious class of the community, working their own plantations, building their own houses, manufacturing their own cloth and mats, besides furnishing these articles for the king.

The higher class among the raatiras were those who possessed large tracts of land in one place, or a number of smaller sections in different parts. Some of them owned perhaps many hundred acres, parts of which were cultivated by those who lived in a state of dependence upon them, or by those petty raatiras who occupied their plantations on condition of rendering military service to the proprietors, and a portion of the produce. These individuals were a valuable class in the community, and constituted the aristocracy of the country. They were in general more regular, temperate, and industrious in their habits, than the higher ranks, and, in all the measures of government, imposed a restraint upon the extravagance or precipitancy of the king, who, without their co-operation, could carry but few of his measures. In their public national assemblies, the speakers often compared the nation to a ship, of which the king was the mast; and whenever this figure was used, the raatiras were always termed the shrouds, or ropes, by which the mast is kept upright. Possessing at all times the most ample stores of native provisions, the number of their dependents, or retainers, was

« PrécédentContinuer »